Scholarship Finalist –

Motherhood and Education – The Strengthening Struggles

Social justice envisions an environment where not only the basic needs of clothing, food, shelter and health care are met, but one in which all people can actually thrive – socially, economically, politically. We create that world through helping each other, through becoming agents of change. Education plays an instrumental role in changing people’s lives, and its rewards far outweigh the obstacles of juggling academics with motherhood. The American leader and civil rights advocate Jackie Robinson once said that “a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” This quote embraces the professional role of social workers in other people’s lives and my own approach as a mother. I strive to continue his legacy of integrity, citizenship, and justice. My unique undergraduate experience as a mother and student, taught me lessons about doing the right thing for the right reasons. The last few years at Stony Brook helped me to make a difference in myself and in others – both inside and outside of the classroom. I am thankful and delighted to begin my next journey at the Columbia University School of Social Work to obtain a Master’s of Science in Social Work. I plan to serve as a role model for my four-year-old son, Adriel, while utilizing the tools of discipline, passion and empathy that I gained from him.

As I pack my belongings to begin a new life in New York City, I reminisce about the past four years. Almost a half-decade ago, as I graduated high school and prepared to undertake my undergraduate studies- I found out about my pregnancy. Although these news changed my life, I moved into the dormitories of Stony Brook University the following fall. This semester was filled with emotional, physical and academic challenges. I broke up with my son’s father, lost friends, felt nauseous on a daily basis and struggled academically in my courses. I became depressed and took the following semester off to recover and to welcome my child. As cliché as it sounds, Adriel transformed my life. My love for this tiny new person saved my life. Our bond transcends any obstacle and gives me strength during times of need. In addition to mystical love, parenting comes with an array of responsibilities including financial duties. Two months after his birth, I returned to school, moved into my own apartment and began a full time job. It is only in retrospect that I am capable of grasping the formative extent of this time on my life. My eighteen-year-old self, experienced the discipline that comes with parenting, and the necessary sacrifices to give my child the best.

This discipline and structure helped me to effectively manage my time in order to succeed academically. I learned to not only complete my assignments on time, but to complete them while my son was in the Stony Brook Child Care Center (SBCCC). SBCCC is an on campus facility that served students faculty and staff. Adriel and I took the bus from our on campus apartment to SBCCC. I remember holding him in my arms, along with my back pack, his diaper bag and a stroller, through the cold rainy, snowy and sunny days. Every morning, my body literally struggled through the difficulties of managing my student life while caring for a child. This struggle only strengthened my love for Adriel, but I doubted myself. I overcame my self-doubt with the help of Adriel, mentors and family. I learned to persevere in the face of adversity because things would work themselves out. Adriel showed me empathy and to keep an open mind toward the future. Some weeks during which I could not afford formula, SBCCC would donate some. During my son’s time SBCCC, I enjoyed quality child care, valuable staff and resources that made it possible to finish my bachelor’s degree. These resources led to my interest in self-advocacy and to seek leadership opportunities.

I value the importance of balancing academic development alongside service with diverse communities and leadership positions outside of the classroom, in order to yield the richest learning outcome for students. Economic difficulty was the main reason I applied to the Graduate Resident Assistant (GRA) position, but this opportunity provided me so much more than that. I served as the “RA Council Representative” by planning appreciation initiatives and advocating on behalf of my fellow GRAs in the Chapin community, along with seven other members. I participated in the AIDS Peer Education (APE) program, which addresses issues of HIV transmission and risk reduction; including identifying opportunities to discuss risk and promote risk reduction, and supporting the process of behavior change. I was member of the Chapin Apartments Resident Association (CARA) and the Undergraduate Social Work Alliance (USWA) through the SBSSW. My involvement transformed my student experience by providing lifelong friendships and a support system for myself and my child. Two weeks ago, I graduated from Stony Brook University with Dual Degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Bachelor of Science in Social Work, in addition to completing my senior honors thesis on the historical and contemporary complexities of Dominican citizenship and ethnicity.

I survived the past four years, and my little guy’s sense of humor solidified the values of our sacrifices. With his help, I excelled academically received admissions into Stony Brook University’s Advanced Standing program, one much more affordable to me than Columbia’s. But Columbia is my dream school – not just my top choice, but my particular career goal because of the Social Work Program’s specific concentration on Policy Practice.

I have spent the last month in conversations with my family, especially my mother. Our resources are limited when held against Columbia’s tuition. My mother is a first-generation immigrant and single parent who works as a Home Health Aide caring for the elderly. I’m the eldest sibling, the first to graduate from college, and the most financially stable member of a family that can provide many forms of support, but not money.

As the parent of a four-year-old, I am also responsible for the future of my child. I am grateful that my income is able to break even each month after expenses. Our family is committed to continue working full time while I attend Columbia, but it will not be enough to outweigh $ 41,000 in tuition cost left after the aid offered to me so far. Because I have a small child, the insecurity that comes with a large sum of federal debt is a risk I cannot responsibly take on.

My life is part of a collective reality shared by so many people, and that fuels my commitment to becoming a change agent. I want to serve as the highest possible role model for my son and impact his life for the better. I am overjoyed to continue enhancing my social work knowledge, skills and values at Columbia University to make a difference in the loves of others. Financially, this scholarship offers me an opportunity to access to an institution with Columbia’s magnitude. I can visualize excelling at Columbia, volunteering, staying involved, learning, working, thriving. I feel that it’s right for me and my child. The Law Offices of Curiel & Runion Single Mother Scholarship bring that dream so close to me.